As the self-proclaimed "Ben Urich" of Boston comic book and geek culture, myself and my esteemed colleagues at VIGILANT GEEK MEDIA work around the clock to provide you with up-to-date, pertinent comic book and geek culture news! We discuss a plethora of graphic novel titles from the mainstream labels like Marvel, DC, Valiant and Image, to interesting indie publications both local, (Boston, MA), and nation-wide! Whether it be comic books, comics-based tv or movies, anime, gaming or who knows what else that makes you tick.. I am confident you will find it here at THE VIGILANT GEEK! Thanks so much to loyal fans of the blog and podcast, as well as you newcomers. I hope we all keep having fun and never grow up.

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

"Venturing Outbound": Boston's Own OUTBOUND Vol. 1

"Venturing OUTBOUND!" : 

An In-Depth Look at Boston's Own Science Fiction Anthology, Outbound Vol. 1

            Hello again my fellow graphic novel enthusiasts! With the chaos of Boston Comic Con dying down, the time has come to take an in-depth look at another Boston Comics Roundtable, (BCR), publication of pure excellence! A few months ago, I was able to show you all first hand that some of Boston’s best indie writers and artists, (BCR and Riverbird Studios), could more than handle themselves within the genre of horror, (see my earlier BCR review, “Homegrown Horror: Hellbound III Darkness). Now, it is time to change gears, look to the stars and travel into outer space at warp speed! That’s right my friends, this week we are going to take a close look at BCR and Riverbird Studios’ red hot science fiction anthology, Outbound. BCR’s team of graphic novel gurus have already published three volumes of Outbound, with volume four on its way this Fall. With this being said, this time, I felt that I should start the review with the first volume, published in 2009, especially since a lot of the short stories in this anthology have a strong continuity that stretches throughout the volumes.

Radical cover painting by Marcelo Buchelli

       The publication itself is an illuminating work of art, complete with an eye-catching cover painting by Marcelo Buchelli that showcases two aliens from The Caerulean Dream. There are also chapter covers for each short story in the anthology, each unique in their own way, each illustrated by David Newbold and Richard Jenkins. Basically, the very first big statement I can make about Outbound, or any BCR anthology I have come across so far for that matter, is that the artwork is always such a treat!

The Caerulean Dream:

"The Caerulean Dream," pg. 1

           The first plotline that readers will encounter is a very original and well-thought out story of extraterrestrial colonization entitled, The Caerulean Dream, by Brett Barkley and Roho. The story starts out with HCOI, a Caerulean priest, briefing some family members about the steps to be taken in preparation for a long cosmic voyage for young Caerulean intergalactic colonists and lovers HNAL and HULZ. They are to start a new life on a distant planet as the first step towards their own Caerulean priesthood. The planet of destination however, isn’t so distant to us Earthlings. As HCOI conveys to HNAL and HULZ’s family members on pg. 2, “It’s a yellow sun system, the fourth planet from the sun. It seems to be evenly stable and ripe for “bio-forming.”” Hmmm, sounds a lot like Mars to me…

            As Barkley and Roho take their readers through a week’s worth of events, all in preparation for the big cosmic journey, they give us a great sense of what this particular extraterrestrial culture is like. Through family dinners, meetings with HCOI the priest, an interesting trip to a Caerulean marketplace, and especially a certain tender evening between HNAL and HULZ, it is quite clear that this extraterrestrial species from a galaxy far, far away is not so different from the human race. This is a fresh change-up for science fiction literature, because most extraterrestrials are typically portrayed as malevolent conquerors of worlds and/or galaxies.

            On the last page of The Caerulean Dream, the reader will find a Russian rocket ship, getting ready to launch back on August 5, 1973 from the USSR. In the adjacent panel, the reader will find a similar scenario, except that it is the Caerulean spacecraft launching into space. In the final panel of the story, the caption reads “March 12, 1974, day 365 of the voyage.” The Caeruleans did indeed make it to Mars. The only problem now, is that the Russians, (the bad guys as always), are also landing on the red planet, at the exact same time!! It almost appears that the two spacecrafts are on a steady course to a major collision with one another. Of course, just like any great story teller would do, Barkley and Roho leave us hanging at that moment on Mars in March of 1974…. At least until the next issue! I definitely can’t wait to find out what happens next!

Space and Time:

Cover art by Josh Mills and David Newbold

This next one’s a real doozy. Without even reading it yet, the eerie cover art done by David Newbold and Josh Mills, showcasing a devious-looking female cyborg standing in front of a man trapped in a tank of fluid, just speaks volumes. This was one of those great comic book covers, (you collectors out there will know what I mean), that just pumps the reader up and creates excitement towards the story before most readers will learn what the story is even about! It’s genius, it’s done all the time in the graphic novel medium, and it always works, at least with me. (I have been known to pick up a new comic book title and give it a try if the cover leaves a lasting impression with me). Anyway, I better digress and get into the meat and potatoes of this story.

This sci-fi thriller by Josh Mills and Mike Paoloni takes place in the future, the year 2098 to be exact, in Colorado Springs, CO. It all begins with a father and daughter preparing to leave on a long trip across the galaxy, due to the father’s new work assignment. As the father is injecting himself with some sort of drug, his daughter catches him in the act, demanding an explanation. He goes on to state that the injection is just for the trip, it was prescribed by his doctor and that it is to calm his nerves for the voyage.

In the scene that follows, the reader is introduced to a new character, the pilot for this epic voyage through the cosmos, a sassy, young blonde woman named Alex. She is meeting with her superiors when the reader finds out that she is not just transporting passengers. There is a very mysterious, very sensitive type of cargo accompanying Alex, the father and the daughter on this trip. Though readers never actually find out what this cargo really is in the first issue, it is made apparent to anyone that has the ability to read between the lines that Alex will not be transporting a giant crate of fuzzy little cute bunnies. This mystery cargo is going to be dangerous, I know it!! (I cannot wait to find out for sure though). The cargo is the real vital commodity for Alex here. She is simply using the passengers, (i.e. father and daughter), as an alibi to allow her to log the trip!

Now let’s cut to the third key entity of this story.. that creepy cyborg lady from the amazing cover art I mentioned earlier! We don’t find out much about her or her role in all of this in issue one, but what we do know is only what is said back and forth during radio contact between our lovely cyborg lady and her male cyborg superior. However, even though readers are granted a V.I.P. pass into the whole conversation, it still does not make a whole lot of sense yet. Phrases are muttered back and forth such as, “The shield is in place my master,” “The trap is set, now we wait.” “Our prize will arrive soon.” WHAT??!! Slow down you robo-jerks! What kind of shield?? What trap are you setting? What prize do you expect to receive soon? Well, it becomes quite clear that whatever those miserable cyborgs are anticipating as their “prize,” you can bet your milk money that Alex is carrying it on her ship somewhere. Other than that though, your guess is as good as mine in regards to what the big scheme will be. Only one thing is for sure at this point, it can’t be good!

As if there aren’t enough separate entities within this extremely intricate plot already, the sharpest curveball is thrown by Mills and Paoloni towards the final two pages of the issue. Perhaps the scariest stakeholders in this intergalactic mind game are found at the headquarters of the “United Planets of the Milky Way.” I’ve always thought that corrupt politicians make phenomenal antagonists, mainly due to the obscene amount of power always placed in the metaphorical lap of these inevitably greedy and selfish “suit dummies,” and their constant tendencies to exploit that power. This scenario is no different. Once again, readers are granted the privilege of being a fly on the wall, this time during a meeting of the most evil politicians the Milky Way can hack up. They are discussing a conspiracy they wish to enact that would basically involve the galactic government creating a false, controlled “rebellion,” that said galactic government plans to exterminate “when it suits them.” They even state in the meeting that by following through with this conspiracy, all of them in that board room would be knowingly killing millions. Some of the greasier characters in the room try to justify this by emphasizing the vitality of catering to certain special interest groups. (Sound familiar?)

Within the final panels of this instant classic, readers are able to get a real good look at Alex’s ship, listen to the daughter harass her father about being a drug addict just one more time, and a deadly asteroid belt that just so happens to be pulling our heroes right towards it! Will “Alex, the fearless space smuggler” and her convenient alibis in both the “Nagging Daughter,” and her amazing “Junkie Dad” make it out of this debacle alive? We’ll all just have to read Outbound Vol. 2 to find out!

The Null Device:

David S. Marshall has a unique style of art that captivates readers

Chapter One: (Is-A)

Are you the type of sci-fi junkie that might find yourself pondering an alternate future, one in which Star Wars was mashed-up on the silver screen with Star Gate and James Bond, (the Sean Connery portrayal of course ;) ) ?  If so, this next comic might as well have been dedicated to you! This awesome cornerstone in science fiction literature is without a doubt the most original and imaginative sci-fi work in any medium I have come across in recent years. The story: The Null Device, the creator: David S. Marshall, the target audience: HOPEFULLY all of you! Now get ready to shed some unwanted dense, physical mass from your glowing soul, find yourself the closest wormhole to dive through and meet me in the war zone for an inter-dimensional adventure that will blow your @#$% off.
The tale kicks off with an older gentleman peering through computer files on people who appear to be government agents or secret operatives of some sort. The man is clearly attempting to assemble a task force of some kind, for an extremely urgent mission. Then we cut to a scene in a busy city block. A man is staggering down the sidewalk in what seems like excruciating pain. Suddenly, out of nowhere, his &*%$ing head splits apart!! A glowing, "aura-like" beam of light rises from the crumbling, lifeless corpse and rises up to the atmosphere and into space. The beam of light is in fact the man. This is a way he is able to travel! It is unclear if this method allows the man to travel through time or not, but it definitely appears to be some sort of inter-dimensional way of transportation. Oh, and the television sets are used as wormholes, of coarse. 
When the man arrives back in his dense physical body through the television/wormhole, he finds himself in the older gentleman's living room. It is now clear that the older man is bald, which is not so weird. However, he seems to also have a USB port installed in his head, which is very weird! He has the man who arrived in his living room to hand him the USB drive. What happens next is so freakin cool!!
As I am trying to watch it with the spoilers, all I can disclose is that a fellow agent, (Agent K), is in big trouble in an alternate dimension called the "war zone," and the man doing the traveling better get his ass back in that television/wormhole and go save her! This was such a cool story, I really can't say enough about it. You can tell that Mr. Marshall really has a knack not only for top-shelf artwork, but for mind-blowing, original science fiction story-telling. Thanks for this gem David, I'll be highly anticipating the next installment!

Flek! Space Flea:

            Once, there was a squirrel monkey named Gordo. NASA sent Gordo into space, to orbit around the Earth. Unfortunately, Gordo's spacecraft collided with a satellite; and two days later the ship's nose cone, with Gordo inside, landed on a planet full of life. What was next for Gordo you might ask? To heck if I know!! This story isn't about Gordo...... it's about HIS FLEAS!!

            Written and illustrated by Erik Heumiller, the story starts out with our hero, Flek, on the run from some troublesome bully-fleas. As Flek tries to duck into the tall grasses to lose the bullies, a giant centipede, (giant in the perspective of the fleas), ambushes them all! Just as the bullies are about to get squashed, Flek uses his extra-strong legs to leap high and kick the centipede out of the way, saving the bullies. Though the bullies end their pursuit, they are still major jerks to poor Flek, even after he saved them! Later on, Flek is shown having an intense conversation with his father at their kitchen table. When Flek's father reveals some climactic information regarding Flek's long, lost mother, it is apparent that Flek will surely embark on a journey to find her, and his true "people."

Scientists Gone Wild:

Scientists Gone Wild concept art by Jerel Dye

        Far away from prying eyes, deep within a secret laboratory, mad scientists Herr Doktor Ernst Schumacher and his assistant Pickles will be conducting a series of four experiments today. The experiments include Maze, Brain, Wheel and HEAD SWAP! (ehhhh, I don't know about that last one guys..) Written and illustrated by Eric Boeker, this story was big fun. The test subjects, or torture victims rather, are a gerbil named Professor Gerbil T. Fuzzybum, and a goldfish named Fishy McFisherstich.

       Now I understand that this greatly defies all logic, but the scientists agree that it will be best for them to perform the head swap after happy hour! This is precisely where our mad scientist chums goof everything up for themselves. See, by deciding to leave the lab unattended, particularly by attending happy hour, they not only provide Fuzzybum and McFisherstich with the opportunity to escape their torturous captivity in the lab, but also give them ample time to sneak into "2B: Giant Robots and Growth Rays," and turn themselves into gigantic cyborgs!! Let's just say things don't end well for the mad scientists!

Mark and the Aliens:

Mark and the Gillys concept art by Roho

            In the story, Mark and the Aliens, written and illustrated by Aya Rothwell, there's this dude named Mark. He's a wicked good guy, but the dude fell into some bad luck when his spacecraft crash landed on a mysterious planet in a far away galaxy. The aliens, (now referred to as "Gillys"), that inhabit the planet are now the only friends Mark has. Mark must rely on them for food, shelter and company. It's cool though, cuz Mark's like super popular there! This is primarily due to the fact that Mark is the only being the aliens have seen that doesn't look just like them. On the other hand, Mark cannot tell any of them apart!! This makes it very difficult for Mark to develop a personal relationship with any one member of the alien population. This one definitely made me ponder what it must be like, and how lonely it would be, to actually be considered the extraterrestrial within a society of extraterrestrials!

Black Fuska:

Black Fuska, pg. 1, art by Roho

              Last, but definitely not least, we arrive at the mysterious tale of the Black Fuska, written and illustrated by Roho. The first installment of this story is will make your jaw drop and give you goosebumps from the suspense. I'm not an art professor by any means, but what I can say about Roho's work, particularly Black Fuska, is that his art has it's own distinctive style, and utilizes the contrast of black and white extremely well. He has one of those uniquely visually appealing styles that is capable of really sucking the reader into the story. 
              In addition to the artwork, Roho's story has a unique and mysterious plot that leaves readers dying to know more. We are introduced to our main protagonist, a mysterious Uruguayan  motorist, driving his "Black Fuska," through a nasty storm. Despite the weather, he seems to be making the best of things while stuck on the road, singing along to a cassette tape and chugging tasty orange Mirandas, by the dozen. (Uruguayan orange soda pop children) However, things take a turn for the worse when the storm sends a comet straight for the Black Fuska!
              The impact of the collision with the comet sends the Fuska ass-tearing off the road and far into a cornfield. If that's not bad enough, during the whole "ass-tearing" period, it seems our protagonist is seeing strange dreams or visions of cats and strange men! When he regains consciousness, he finds himself on a beach staring into the eyes of a portuguese lifeguard we later come to know as "Ananda."Ananda does her best to nurse our hero back to health, but all he wants to do is find his car, the Black Fuska! Lost and hopeless, at least for now, the driver of the Black Fuska explains what happened to him with the storm and the comet, in hopes of the smallest of comforts from Ananda. Unfortunately for him,  Ananda replies that it hadn't even rained, let alone stormed where they were, (which was Capao Da Canoa, Brazil, 1989), in three days! WHAT??!!! Nothing is making sense for our driver friend, and it is not unlike one of those awesome episodes from The Twilight Zone in which the protagonist gets lost in a different dimension or time period. This was such a cool read, and I cannot wait to see what happens in part two!

               Well there you have it ladies and germs. If there was any doubt that the gang over at BCR and Riverbird Studios could do sci-fi, it is now crushed like an ant under Juggernaut's boot. With cool, original story concepts, incredible, captivating and highly-detailed artwork, and a  multi-issue continuity that will hook you by the lip like a big trout! (Well, if trouts read comic books) Stay tuned for more of my reviews of Outbound #2 and #3, as well as other BCR anthologies newly released and from the vault!

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